A novel for middle-grade readers, Gigi Shin Is Not a Nerd by Lyla Lee tells the story of a seventh grade mixed race girl, Ji-Young who selected the American name Gigi. Living in Texas, Gigi draws for adventure. Although her parents want her to pursue a career that privileges math and science, Gigi loves art and creating comic characters like Meteor Girl and Choir Boy. When the opportunity to attend Starscape, a prestigious summer art camp, comes along, Gigi is determined to attend. However, when Gigi asks her parents about the camp, they tell her that money is tight. Frustrated by their lack of supportRead More →

Award-winning author Minh Lê and illustrator Chan Chau collaborated to produce Enlighten Me, a graphic novel for young readers. After he is threatened with disciplinary action at school following a fight, Bihn and his family travel to Three Jewels Mountain Retreat for meditation exercises. Binh Bui, a Vietnamese boy, is taunted for eating cat and takes on the school bully. Thinking he is a hero, like those he sees in his video games, Binh is confused by the reaction of his parents and his vice principal. While at Three Mountains, Binh learns from the teachings of Sister Peace about the diamond of knowledge that grantsRead More →

Anyone looking for a book with a strong female character will find it in Barely Floating by Lilliam Rivera. Set in East Los Angeles, Rivera’s book features twelve-year-old Natalie de la Cruz Rivera y Santiago, aka Nat. A hard-to-contain fat girl with astucras (cunning), Nat feels it is her duty to school anyone who acts out of bounds. Bull-dozing her way into situations, she’s fearless. After seeing the performance of an artistic swimming team, the LA Mermaids, Nat decides she wishes to be on the synchronized swimming team. She not only wants to do something glamorous but to wear the sequined and shiny costumes. However,Read More →

Being of mixed race makes it difficult to know which part of the self to defer to or which part takes precedence. This is Anna’s dilemma in Malia Maunakea’s middle grade novel, Lei and the Fire Goddess. Anna Leilani Kama’ehu is of both western and Hawaiian descent. She has struggled to believe that her grandmother’s traditional stories about gods and goddesses are anything more than just stories. Likewise, she isn’t sure she wants the responsibility thrust upon her: that she is the keeper of the family stories or móolelo. Now that’s she’s twelve, Anna thinks her visits with her grandmother in the Hawaiian town ofRead More →

Because Ronnie Riley believes that no one should feel alone for who they like or who they are, this nonbinary, neurodivergent author writes a book for tweens who might also need a safe place to discover themselves. Riley’s novel, Jude Saves the World features Dallas Knight, who is gay, and Jude Winters, who is nonbinary and lives with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The two twelve-year-olds share a “ride or die” friendship. When they welcome Stevie Morgan into their circle, challenges ensue. Another challenge for Jude—whose pronouns are they/them—is whether to share their identity with their grandparents. Jude’s mom says they’re not ready for thatRead More →

Set in New Mexico, The Storyteller by Brandon Hobson features Ziggy Echota whose mother is a missing indigenous woman. Both of Cherokee descent, sixth grade Ziggy and his older sister Moon long to know what happened to their mother, so they begin a search in the desert with “Weird Alice” as their guide. On their journey, the two learn especially valuable lessons while the reader gains details of the Cherokee culture and its lore. As he searches, Ziggy encounters several Nunnehi, who are protectors and shape shifters. Among them are a fiddle-playing buzzard named Gus, a horse named Lampwick, and an armadillo named Andrew Jackson.Read More →

In writing Hamra and the Jungle of Memories, Hanna Alkaf begins in the fashion of a traditional fairy tale. In her reimagining of Little Red Riding Hood, Alkaf borrows heavily from the Malaysian Muslim culture and weaves her magical retelling with Malay customs and cuisine. The star of this tale is thirteen-year-old Hamra, who is stubborn, sad, rebellious, and angry. She is tired of wiping up messes and cooking and listening to her grandmother say things that don’t’ make sense now that she is living with dementia. Hamra is tired of always having to be nice and good and polite and responsible. And she isRead More →

Prickly, unhappy, and bruised by the tragic deaths of her parents, Maria Latif is bustled off from Pakistan to Long Island, New York. After being bounced from relative to unfortunate relative, she is now going to stay with family friends. Still, the orphaned Maria knows this is just another temporary landing place. When she arrives, Maria is prepared to hate New York, but there is a secret about the Clayborne House on Long Island that she doesn’t understand. Something about the way an unloved, untouched, and unclaimed garden hums and thrums makes Maria think that this bit of earth can be hers. With a gardenRead More →

Set in the early eighties, Parachute Kids by Betty C. Tang is a graphic novel that shares the challenges faced by Chinese children who were “dropped off” with friends or relatives in foreign countries while their parents stayed behind. Hoping to provide a better life for their children, these parents often missed out on the trials endured by their offspring. Without the supportive nurturing and guidance of their parents, these youth faced the challenges of a new country, culture, and language. Arriving in California from Taiwan, Ke-Gāng, Feng-Li, and Jia-X are soon “abandoned” by their parents, whose Visas require them to return to their homeRead More →